(Editors’ Note: All editorials are solely the opinion of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of DC Comics News or its staff.)
As I read my colleague’s great article “SHOWCASE PRESENTS: Why I Dropped The Flash,” I realized that I found myself in the same scenario not long ago. I agree with many of the points made by that article. Websites were giving the title mediocre reviews, and the plot appeared to be going nowhere. Sure, the art was always spectacular, but the writing fell short compared to other DC titles. But then something unexpected happened—the writing got better.
Barry Allen’s greatest accomplishment was his death in Crisis on Infinite Earths. Yes, he did “turn to dust” in that story, but it happened because he was saving the universe from total annihilation. When you consider the careers of other superheroes, Barry Allen’s sacrifice to save the universe just might be the greatest act of heroism in comics.
When Barry returned from the dead in Final Crisis, the Flash of the previous 20-plus years, Wally West, took a back seat. Yes, Wally is a great hero that became the first legacy character to really work. The success of other legacies (e.g. Kyle Rayner and Tim Drake) can be attributed to the success of Wally. He has a great personality and supporting cast. He attracted some great writers such as Mark Waid, Grant Morrison and Geoff Johns. Michael Rosenbaum’s portrayal on the Justice League animated series is a fan favorite. And then, Barry came back.
The problem with Barry Allen’s return is not that he replaced Wally West, but that the way he was written did not endear him to longtime readers. Under Geoff Johns, Barry was portrayed as “the greatest Flash” not through his actions, but because Johns beats it over the fans’ heads in exposition. For those that love the Wally character, Barry did not earn the title of “greatest Flash”—he was just given it under editorial edict. Due to the emphasis on reinforcing Barry’s place in history, his character was poorly developed during the Flash series that preceded Flashpoint and the launch of the New 52.
This is a problem that continued into the latest volume of The Flash. Only now the dynamic of the extended Flash Family is removed from the equation. The title was a hit due to incredible art that propped up a thin plot. While on my pull list at the time of the relaunch, the story did not grab me like other titles. So around the time Zero Month happened, I gave up on the book.
So what brought me back? To be honest, it was DC’s infamous “WTF Month.” Issue #19 of The Flash had a gatefold cover featuring a new, mysterious Reverse Flash which piqued my interest. So I went to my Comixology app, and realized that I was looking at the second half of a two-part story. I went back and picked up #18 and, though Reverse Flash had little to do with the plot, I found the issues to be a pleasant surprise.
In a bizarre, loose crossover with the criminally overlooked Dial H, Barry Allen was stripped of his powers while trying to prevent the Trickster from freeing all the criminals in Iron Heights Penitentiary. This was a story that had it all – suspense, humor and great story. Since then, The Flash has arguably been one of DC’s best titles. How did this happen?
The improvement in The Flash is attributed to the improved writing of Brian Buccellato. In the period between dropping and picking back up The Flash, “Booch” has worked on improving his writing by working on titles for other publishers such as Dynamite Entertainment’s The Black Bat. Every word that hits the page now has meaning and, one way or another, impacts the story. Each issue now has a solid pacing that allows for a pleasant reading experience, whereas previous issues felt like tedious reads. And, most importantly, Barry Allen has been given a personality.
As mentioned before, Barry Allen’s personality was very underdeveloped prior to the New 52 relaunch. Manapul and Buccellato have finally managed to inject a modern sense of humanity to a character that many have criticized as “boring” and “dull.” Does he has the same spunk and charisma that made Wally West popular? No, because he’s not Wally West. He’s still portrayed as the level-headed guy he’s always been. However, he cracks a joke every once in a while. He has emotional range. Essentially, he’s written to be a person as opposed to the burdened living legend he used to be.
For these reasons, Barry Allen is a relatable character for possibly the first time in publication history. Buccellato and Manapul have fine-tuned their writing by giving readers a hero that they can connect with and care about. And with readers now having an emotional investment in the Barry Allen character, the title as a whole has improved to a top-level comic, not just at DC but throughout the industry. If you haven’t done so already, check out the most recent arc in The Flash, titled “Reverse,” which began in issue #20. Barry Allen is not Wally West, but he doesn’t need to be.